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Opponents of abortion spurned by Irish leader

IN A SHARP rebuff to the Irish Republic's Catholic right wing in the run-up to the autumn debate on abortion law reform, the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, has publicly refused to meet Catholic bishops or the hardline anti-abortion Pro Life Campaign.

His closing the door to pressure from key anti-abortion figures will be seen as another sign that Mr Reynolds is breaking with tradition by severing formerly close links between his Fianna Fail party and the Catholic hierarchy.

The Dail is shortly to consider how to resolve the crisis created by the Supreme Court ruling in the so-called 'X' case. The judgment, in the first legal interpretation of the 1983 'equal right to life' amendment to the constitution, ruled abortion could be legal where there was a clear threat to the life of the mother.

The Taoiseach's move comes just four days after the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Desmond Connell, reinforced Church pressure for a new referendum to close the breach in the past abortion ban opened up by the ruling in the 'X' case.

Dr Connell called abortion 'an absolute, an irreparable evil', urging in a sermon that the constitution 'may once more be enabled to express the will of the majority of our people to reject abortion'.

Mr Reynolds's snub is in stark contrast to the close ties between former leaders of the Fianna Fail party and John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin until the Seventies, and for many years the Church's chief ideologist.

Bishop Joseph Duffy, spokesman for the Catholic hierarchy, said yesterday the bishops had not sought a meeting with the Taoiseach. They had only had two formal meetings with Dublin governments since 1970, to discuss the 1977 family planning Bill and the 1986 divorce referendum.

Other contacts are known to have taken place with individual ministers, however. Most recently Dr Connell confronted then education minister Mary O'Rourke, opposing her plans to reduce Church control over the Irish education system. He earlier raised her planned reforms with then prime minister Charles Haughey.

Mr Reynolds said moves to legalise homosexual intercourse in the Republic would be at the bottom of the governnment's crowded agenda for the autumn. This may defuse strong opposition to the reform expressed by his own more conservative supporters.

His comment comes despite a commitment given by the Irish envoy to the Council of Europe in May that the ban would be lifted.

Senator David Norris has said he will re-enter his case brought before the European Court of Human Rights challenging the ban. The court ruled in 1988 that the ban broke the European Convention on Human Rights.